Filed under: Interview
Now well known for his quirky brand of techy electro house, as evidenced by last year’s Suck My Deck, once upon a time Damian Lazarus wasn’t even considering DJing as a career. But the powers that be had plans for this man from London even if he didn’t know it. While working in A&R at City Rockers under the guidance of the eminent Pete Tong he was vital in discovering influential new music like Felix da Housecat’s ‘Silverscreen’ and it wasn’t long until he took the reigns of his very own record label, Crosstown Rebels.
Being constantly surrounded by fresh sounds the temptation to take his show on the road obviously became too great as this DJ moved out of the bedroom and into clubs like Ibiza’s DC10. Spending much of his time on the island and in countless other countries, Damian is an expert on what drives the dance music scene. Despite feeling the effects of a six week tour spanning three continents, Lazarus kindly took some time out for a chin wag about the ins and outs of DJing, running a label, and putting together compilation CDs intended to “blow people’s heads off”.
Interview by Nick Lawrence (HigherFrequency)
HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : Is this your first time in Japan ?
Damian Lazarus : No, it’s my second. I came here two years ago and I played at Womb. I don’t quite know what happened, it was a bit of an odd one and I didn’t come back. I think it was kind of just at the time when I was just starting to find my way as a DJ and with the new label and stuff. To be honest the Far East has been a little bit at arms length but I figure now is the right time to try and start breaking the label over here. I’ve been hearing so many good things from friends and other DJs about Tokyo and Osaka. People like Ricardo and Luciano say it’s wicked here. And Jennifer Cardini, who is an artist on our label, comes over here quite often as well.
HRFQ : You travel a lot especially to Ibiza, it seems like you are there all the time.
Damian : Well yeah, A) I love it there and B) I get to play at DC10 which for me is one of the most incredible places on earth. Also, Ibiza is like an hour and a half away from where I live.
HRFQ : Is Ibiza still much of an influence ?
Damian : Massively. Since this summer I have had so many people get in touch saying that they were there at one of the gigs at DC10 or Cocoon and just being there inspired them to get into this music, or buy this record or go and see this act, or whatever. On any Monday during summer at either DC10 or Cocoon there are up to thirty or forty nationalities in one room havin’ it to the most incredible music. It’s pretty special.
HRFQ : Do you think any other city or country has a similar kind of influence ?
Damian : Um, yeah a lot of the key cities in Europe. Berlin is the most obvious one to say but there are still great parties and people creating music in Paris and London. South America has been really important the past couple of years, Santiago and Sao Paulo. So yeah, pretty much everywhere really. Wherever I travel I meet people who are into the sound and do something whether it is a club, or a label, or as an artist. So it truly is an International thing. In the past there were music scenes that very kind of community based or just a small section of society in a small city would be into this kind of sound. Even when Jungle started it was very raw, urban, kind of London but with this sound it is much wider.
HRFQ : When your Rebel Futurism series first came out it was more underground and names like Blackstrobe and Steve Bug were not so well known. Now that the music has moved above ground how has this affected you ?
Damian : I think this is always something I have had to deal with. I mean, when I was doing City Rockers and the first Futurism album a lot of the music on that was totally unknown and then within six months they were like household names. So it just kind of makes me more excited to find something different and to try and help develop something to the next level. But at the same time some of these names that you mention may not be as underground as they were but they are still at the top of the scene dictating what goes on. This music is underground by nature but is starting to cross over into the record boxes of people like Sasha, Steve Lawler and John Digweed. But I don’t think that is making it become commercial it is just becoming accepted as the new form of dance music which for me is fantastic.
HRFQ : So does this make your job easier ?
Damian : In a way it does because it means people are more attentive to what I do as a DJ and as a label and there are more and more people everyday getting into it and wanting to discover new things. But if you’re are at the start of something very very new it is just you on your own trying to persuade your mates that this is something good. Now there isn’t much persuasion that has to go on. But even with some records now that are quite different I still have to hammer it home before it starts to grow.
HRFQ : What are you trying now to keep it fresh? A lot of people are throwing in some hip hop and trip hop elements, is that something that you’d consider ?
Damian : I tend to play like weird nonsense amongst a lot of the records that I play. Just strange oddities. I fuck around with different sounds and different ideas. I try to develop the way I play all the time as well as trying to develop the label. You know, I don’t ever want to get bored of what I do. I love DJing and I love running this label so I am always trying to create something new and fresh. I am not one of these people that turns up with some records and plays the same set every night robotically and tries to hypnotize the crowd. I like to think I am quite experimental. I don’t really play hip hop in my set but if the right track came along and I could find a way to make it happen then yeah. I never say no to anything. I used to really love jungle and drum n’ bass so every now and then I have a look through some old records and think, “Maybe this could work”. You never know.
HRFQ : So how did you go from music journalist to working in A&R and finally to label boss and DJ ?
Damian : It was all a fluke! How did I do it? I don’t know, for me it was just a natural progression. I’d always wanted to work in music and always had decks but never really aimed to have a career as a DJ. It’s only been over the past few years that it has really become something more paramount in my life. But working in music has been something I’ve always wanted to do and I’ve been sort of making my way year by year and I am pretty happy with where I am now.
HRFQ : Are there a lot of similarities between DJing and running a label ?
Damian : I don’t know about similarities but they’re two things that work very closely hand in hand. Because I am armed with brand new material that is completely fresh but I have an idea and an inkling that it will work for the label and will work for other people, both for DJs and the general public who love getting into this music. But I have to road test it and having the ability to do this myself and see the reaction firsthand on dancefloors is an incredible asset to my job. People running labels who don’t DJ have to rely on giving copies of new music to a load of people and then getting their feedback. I mean we still do that as well of course but I have the opportunity to see this for myself very early on and if it doesn’t work straight away I can always then go back to the artist and it is ripe for me to kind of help develop. Plus the other thing is, it is such a bonus being able to travel and meet so many great people. I am always being sent loads of opportunities and new creative people are sending demos to me all the time. So yeah, it is perfect.
HRFQ : So you have been pretty vocal about the benefits of DJ/Producer crossovers, do you think you experience anything similar from running a label and DJing at the same time ?
Damian : If people hated the way that I DJ then I guess it wouldn’t really help the label. I mean, if people like what I do as a DJ then they are more likely to think, “Oh well if he does this out then the label must be of a similar quality”. So yeah, I guess so. Producers that DJ, if they have a successful show then people are more likely going to go and buy their record. But I don’t really know if that is necessarily true for me. I obviously really enjoy playing out all the records that we release and I get great comfort and enjoyment from hearing other people like DJs and friends playing the records.
HRFQ : Tonight you are playing a long set, how much is pre-determined ?
Damian : Very little. However, I have been traveling for the past couple of weeks so I am slightly limited to the amount I have with me. It’s quite surprising the small amount I actually travel with. I balance my set with a mixture of vinyl and CDs. But while I’m on the road I am constantly being sent new music and I go record shopping pretty much wherever I am too. I also go visiting people like producers and friends who give me new stuff. I am constantly kind of updating my music. So there is no kind of pre-planning. I’ve been spending a lot of time the past few days with some tracks that are quite new which haven’t been played out yet. So I have been listening to them a lot, trying to get my head around them and seeing if they are right for me and the crowd, and trying to think about what the crowd might be like.
HRFQ : So you get a lot of new music sent to you but you still enjoy searching through record shops ?
Damian : Yeah all the time. Both for new records and for older stuff as well. I shop for a wide range of music. I’m working in film as well at the moment doing some music supervision so I am constantly hunting for a variety of music. It is something I’ve just started doing. I’ve sort of been doing it quietly doing it for the past couple of years. I’ve worked on some BBC documentaries and some short films and now I am just doing my first feature film.
HRFQ : Is it something you are planning to move towards more ?
Damian : Yeah, it’s a fantastic thing to be able to do. It feels like the natural next step. But it is also something I can do on the side of things I do already. It was something I wanted to do but I am not pushing it too hard just yet.
HRFQ : Is this work likely to push you to make the move to producing music ?
Damian : I don’t know. The production question always looms quite large. I do think about it but it isn’t a major priority right now. But yeah, maybe sometime in the future. Although I don’t see myself as the type of person who can be happy sitting in the studio seven days a week with no air. I’ve always been better outside with people.
HRFQ : Is the music supervision job as far into the future as you are looking at the moment ?
Damian : I’m just happy with the way things are right now to be honest. I don’t really feel like I need to be making long term plans. There is so much more I want to do with the label, with the artists I am working with, with the talented DJs that I come in contact with. So yeah, there is so much going on right now.
HRFQ : So what is on the horizon for you as far as DJing goes ?
Damian : I’m talking to a few people at the moment and I’ve had some offers from a couple of people that I am considering. Also there is the Rebel Futurism series which may have a number three this year. I’ve just done something for Time Out magazine which is called “The Other Side of London” where I kind of create this kind of late night trippy journey based on a night out in London. I am also currently working on a compilation called “Get Lost” with Matthew Styles from the label. The two of us are doing a very twisted head fuck of a dance CD. I love it twisted. This album is very exciting actually. We are going to release it in April and it is going to contain music that will just blow people’s heads off.
HRFQ : Well we let you get ready for your long set. Thank you.
Damian : Thank you.
End of the interview
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment